“Terminator: Dark Fate”: Why Isn’t This Franchise Terminated? ★★½
Since the box-office smashes of The Force Awakens and Jurassic World, Hollywood has been scrambling to reboot its major franchises in a similar spirit. From Blade Runner to Mad Max, no brand has been safe from a nostalgia-dipped revival.
The latest effort along this vein is Terminator: Dark Fate, the sixth (yes, sixth) installment of the Terminator series. Dark Fate erases all of the narrative succeeding Terminator 2 and posits itself as the true third entry in the sci-fi saga (ironically, Terminator 3, Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys each supposedly did the same).
Headlining Dark Fate are a mix of newcomers and franchise veterans. Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger are back, performing alongside Terminator newbies Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes. Together, they attempt to evade (and later destroy) Gabriel Luna’s V-9, a Terminator 2-esque mechanical assassin bent on murdering Reyes’ character.
Unfortunately though, despite its good cast and reasonable premise, Dark Fate doesn’t really work. Not to say that it’s an entire wash, but ultimately it provides more proof that the franchise should’ve ended with Terminator 2.
While Dark Fate’s screenplay takes a number of admirable risks, it’s also chock-full of clumsy references and hammy dialogue. Whether hardcore fans will be delighted or enraged by the film’s narrative surprises remains to be seen; regardless, Dark Fate is the most narratively distinct Terminator film since Terminator 2.
Hamilton and Schwarzenegger are both loads of fun. Hamilton in particular really seems to be enjoying herself, and thus slips back into her signature role with relative ease. Davis, Reyes, and Luna are not nearly as memorable as Hamilton, Schwarzenegger or Michael Biehn were 30 years ago, but they’re good enough.
One thing Dark Fate does have in common with the original, however, is its frequently distracting special effects. Terminator franchise visuals haven’t really progressed past the 90s, and Dark Fate is no outlier. There’s rarely a scene in which the CGI isn’t noticeable; Luna’s V-9 becomes laughable at times.
As mentioned, the dialogue is mostly poor. Otherwise entertaining performances are often rendered unbelievable and comically “cinematic,” undermining even Hamilton’s best efforts. Furthermore, the new characters are not particularly well-developed: Davis, Reyes and Luna are essentially two-dimensional retreads, save for a minor detail here or there.
I confess that I may be a bit biased. After all, the original Terminator is one of my all-time favorite films, so I might be holding Dark Fate to an unreachable standard. I admit that I enjoyed parts of it, and it’s certainly (albeit by default) the best Terminator film since the original two. Dark Fate, above all else, is an inoffensive film–entertaining enough for a boring Saturday afternoon, but not something you’d rewatch or particularly remember. Which, if you ask me, simply isn’t enough to validate returning to this already-concluded iconic series.
★ – Bad (e.g., Godzilla ‘98, Pixels, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Justice League)
★★ – Mediocre (e.g., Incredibles 2, Watchmen, Alice in Wonderland, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle)
★★★ – Good (e.g., Creed II, Batman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Pretty In Pink, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)
★★★★ – Great (e.g., Jurassic Park, The Empire Strikes Back, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Social Network)
★★★★★ – Amazing (e.g., Dr. Strangelove, The Terminator, The Dark Knight, Back to the Future, Skyfall)